The Hound of the Baskervilles
Cover of the 1st edition
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Cover artist||Alfred Garth Jones|
|Preceded by||The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes|
|Followed by||The Return of Sherlock Holmes|
The Hound of the Baskervilles is the third of the four crime novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. Originally serialised in The Strand Magazine from August 1901 to April 1902, it is set largely on Dartmoor in Devon in England's West Country and tells the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a fearsome, diabolical hound of supernatural origin. Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson investigate the case. This was the first appearance of Holmes since his intended death in "The Final Problem", and the success of The Hound of the Baskervilles led to the character's eventual revival.
In 2003, the book was listed as number 128 of 200 on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel." In 1999, it was listed as the top Holmes novel, with a perfect rating from Sherlockian scholars of 100.
Sir Charles Baskerville, baronet, is found dead on the grounds of his country house, Baskerville Hall. The cause is ascribed to a heart attack. Fearing for the safety of Sir Charles's nephew and the only known heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, coming from Canada to claim his inheritance, Dr James Mortimer travels to London and asks Sherlock Holmes for help.
Mortimer explains that the Baskerville family is afflicted by a curse. According to an old account, said to have been written in 1742 and describing events which had occurred a century earlier still, during the English Civil War, Hugo Baskerville was infatuated with a farmer's daughter. He kidnapped her and imprisoned her in his bedroom. She escaped and the furious Baskerville offered his soul to the devil if he could recapture her. Aided by friends, he pursued the girl onto the desolate moor. Baskerville and his victim were found dead. She had died from fright, but a giant spectral hound stood guard over Baskerville's body. The hound tore out Baskerville's throat, then vanished into the night.
Sir Charles Baskerville had become fearful of the legendary curse and its hellhound. Mortimer concluded that Sir Charles had been waiting for someone when he died. His face was contorted in a ghastly expression, while his footprints suggested that he was running away from something. The elderly man's heart wasn't strong, and he had planned to go to London the very next day. Mortimer says he had seen the footprints of a "gigantic hound" near Sir Charles's body, though nothing was revealed at the inquest.
Intrigued by the case, Holmes meets Sir Henry, newly arrived from Canada. Sir Henry is puzzled by an anonymous note delivered to his London hotel room, warning him to avoid the Devonshire moors. Holmes says that the note had been composed largely of words cut from The Times, probably in a hotel, judging by other clues. The fact that the words were cut with nail scissors suggested a woman author, as did a remnant whiff of perfume. Holmes keeps this last detail to himself. When Holmes and Watson later join Sir Henry at his hotel, they learn one of the baronet's new boots has gone missing. No good explanation can be found for the loss.
Holmes asks if there were any other living relatives besides Sir Henry. Mortimer tells him that the late Sir Charles was the eldest of three brothers. Sir Henry is the sole child of the second brother, who had died young, after which Sir Henry emigrated to the United States, and later settled in Canada. The youngest brother, Rodger, was the black sheep of the family, and was noted for having resembled a family portrait of Hugo. A wastrel and inveterate gambler, he fled to South America to avoid creditors and died there of yellow fever in 1876, presumably unmarried and without heirs. Mortimer also mentions that Sir Charles' fortune, including the estate, was worth close to a million pounds.
Despite the note's warning, Sir Henry insists on going to Baskerville Hall. As Sir Henry leaves Holmes's Baker Street apartment, Holmes and Dr Watson follow him. They realise that a man with a fake-looking black beard in a cab is also following them. Holmes and Watson pursue this man, but he escapes; however, Holmes memorises the cab number: 2704. Holmes stops in at a messenger office and employs a young boy, Cartwright, to visit London's hotels and look through wastepaper in search of cut-up copies of The Times.
By the time they return to the hotel, Sir Henry has had another, older boot stolen. When the first missing boot is discovered before the meeting is over, Holmes begins to realise they must be dealing with a real hound (hence the emphasis on the scent of the used boot). When conversation turns to the man in the cab, Mortimer says that Barrymore, the servant at Baskerville Hall, has a beard, and a telegram is sent to check on his whereabouts.
At Baskerville Hall
It is decided that, with Holmes being tied up in London with other cases, Watson will accompany Sir Henry to Baskerville Hall and report back by telegram in detail. Later that evening, telegrams from Cartwright (who was unable to find the newspaper) and Baskerville Hall (where Barrymore apparently is), bring an end to those leads. A visit from John Clayton, who was driving the cab with the black-bearded man, is of little help. He says that the man had identified himself as Holmes, much to the surprise and amusement of the actual Holmes.
Mortimer, Watson, and Sir Henry set off for Baskerville Hall the following Saturday. The baronet is excited to see it and his connection with the land is clear, but finds the moor dampened. Soldiers are about the area, on the lookout for an escaped murderer named Selden. Barrymore and his wife wish to depart Baskerville Hall as soon as is convenient, and the Hall is, in general, a sombre place. Watson has trouble sleeping that night, and hears a woman crying. The next morning Barrymore denies that it was his wife, who is one of only two women in the house. Watson sees Mrs. Barrymore later in the morning, however, and observes clear evidence that she has indeed been weeping.
Watson checks with the postmaster in Coombe Tracey and learns that the telegram was not actually delivered into the hands of Barrymore, so it is no longer certain that he was at the Hall, and not in London. On his way back, Watson meets Jack Stapleton, a naturalist familiar with the moor even though he has only been in the area for two years. They hear a moan that the peasants attribute to the hound, but Stapleton attributes it to the cry of a bittern, or possibly the bog settling. He then runs off after a specimen of the butterfly Cyclopedes, which was still found on Dartmoor until the 1860s. Watson is not alone for long before Beryl Stapleton, Jack's sister, approaches him. Mistaking him for Sir Henry, she urgently warns him to leave the area, but drops the subject when her brother returns. The three walk to Merripit House (the Stapletons' home), and during the discussion, Watson learns that Stapleton used to run a school in Yorkshire. Though he is offered lunch and a look at Stapleton's collections, Watson departs for the Hall. Before he gets far along the path, Miss Stapleton overtakes him and retracts her warning. Watson notices that the brother and sister don't look very much alike.
Sir Henry soon meets Miss Stapleton and almost immediately falls in love with her. She reciprocates. Watson meets another neighbour, Frankland, an elderly lawyer. Barrymore draws increasing suspicion, as Watson and Sir Henry see him late at night walking with a candle into an empty room, holding it up to the window, and then leaving. Realising that the room has a view out onto the moor, Watson and Sir Henry determine to figure out what is going on.
Meanwhile, during the day, Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton go for a walk together, but are rudely interrupted by a furious Stapleton. He later explains to the disappointed baronet that it was not personal, he was just afraid of losing his only companion so quickly. In an attempt to make amends, he invites Henry to dine with him on Friday.
Sir Henry becomes the person doing the surprising, when he and Watson walk in on Barrymore, catching him at night in the room with a candle. Barrymore refuses to answer their questions, since it is not his secret to tell, but Mrs. Barrymore's. She tells them that the runaway convict Selden is her brother and the candle is a signal to him that food has been left for him. When the couple returns to their room, Sir Henry and Watson go off to find the convict, despite the poor weather and frightening sound of the hound. They see Selden by another candle, but are unable to catch him. Watson notices the outlined figure of another man standing on top of a tor with the moon behind him, but he likewise gets away.
Barrymore is upset when he finds out that they tried to capture Selden, but when an agreement is reached to allow Selden to flee the country, he is willing to repay the favour. He tells them of finding a completely burnt letter asking Sir Charles to be at the gate at the time of his death. It was signed with the initials L.L. Mortimer tells Watson the next day those initials could stand for Laura Lyons, Frankland's daughter. She lives in Coombe Tracey. When Watson goes to talk to her, she admits to writing the letter in hopes that Sir Charles would be willing to help finance her divorce, but says she never kept the appointment.
The appearance of Holmes
Frankland had just won the two law cases and invites Watson in to help him celebrate. Barrymore had previously told Watson that another man lived out on the moor besides Selden, and Frankland unwittingly confirms this, when he shows Watson through his telescope the figure of a boy carrying food. Watson departs the house and goes in that direction. He finds the prehistoric stone dwelling where the unknown man has been staying, goes in, and sees a message reporting on his own activities. He waits, revolver at the ready, for the unknown man to return.
The unknown man proves to be Holmes. He has kept his location a secret so that Watson would not be tempted to come out and so he would be able to appear on the scene of action at the critical moment. Watson's reports have been of much help to him, and he then tells his friend some of the information he has uncovered – Stapleton is actually married to the woman posing as Miss Stapleton, and was also promising marriage to Laura Lyons to get her cooperation. As they bring their conversation to an end, they hear a ghastly scream.
They run towards the sound and finding a body, mistake it for Sir Henry. They realise it is actually the escaped convict Selden, dressed in the baronet's old clothes (which had been given to Barrymore by way of further apology for distrusting him). Selden had fallen over high rocks and snapped his neck upon the landing, which apparently killed him. Then Stapleton appears and, while he makes excuses for his presence, Holmes announces that he will return to London the next day, his investigations having produced no result.
Holmes and Watson return to Baskerville Hall where, over dinner, the detective stares at Hugo Baskerville's portrait. Calling Watson over after dinner he covers the hair to show the face, revealing its striking likeness to Stapleton. This provides the motive in the crime – with Sir Henry gone, Stapleton could lay claim to the Baskerville fortune, being clearly a Baskerville himself. When they return to Mrs. Lyons's apartment, Holmes' questioning forces her to admit Stapleton's role in the letter that lured Sir Charles to his death. They go to the railway station to meet Det. Inspector Lestrade, whom Holmes has called in by telegram.
Under the threat of advancing fog, Watson, Holmes, and Lestrade lie in wait outside Merripit House, where Sir Henry has been dining. When the baronet leaves and sets off across the moor, Stapleton lets the hound loose. Holmes and Watson manage to shoot it before it can hurt Sir Henry seriously, and discover that its hellish appearance was acquired by means of phosphorus. They find Mrs. Stapleton bound and gagged in an upstairs room of Merripit House. When she is freed, she tells them of Stapleton's hideout; an island deep in the Great Grimpen Mire. They look for him next day, unsuccessfully, and he is presumed dead, having lost his footing and being sucked down into the foul and bottomless depths of the mire. Holmes and Watson are only able to find and recover Sir Henry's boot used by Stapleton to give the hound Sir Henry's scent and find the remains of Dr Mortimer's dog in the mire.
Some weeks later, Watson questions Holmes about the Baskerville case. Holmes reveals that although believed to have died unmarried, Sir Charles Baskerville's youngest brother Rodger had married and had one child, also named Rodger. His son had married a local beauty, Beryl Garcia. After embezzling public money in Costa Rica, he took the name Vandeleur and fled to England with her, where he used the money to fund a Yorkshire school. Unfortunately for him, the tutor he had hired died of Tuberculosis, and after an epidemic of the disease killed three students the school itself failed. Now using the name Jack Stapleton, Rodger/Vandeleur fled with his wife to Dartmoor. He apparently supported himself by burglary, engaging in four large robberies and shooting a page who surprised him.
Having learned the story of the hound, he resolved to kill off the remaining Baskervilles so that he could come into the inheritance as the last of the line. He had no interest in the estate and simply wanted the inheritance money. He purchased the hound and hid it in the mire at the site of an abandoned tin mine.
On the night of his death, Sir Charles had been waiting for Laura Lyons. The cigar ash at the scene ("the ash had twice dropped from his cigar") showed he had waited for some time. Instead he met the hound that had been trained by Stapleton and covered with phosphorus to give it an unearthly appearance. Sir Charles ran for his life, but then had the fatal heart attack which killed him. Since dogs do not eat or bite dead bodies, it left him untouched.
Stapleton followed Sir Henry in London, and also stole his new boot but later returned it, since it had not been worn and thus lacked Sir Henry's scent. Holmes speculated that the hotel bootblack had been bribed to steal an old boot of Henry's instead. The hound pursued Selden to his death in a fall because he was wearing Sir Henry's old clothes and thus had his scent on him.
On the night the hound attacked Sir Henry, Stapleton's wife had refused to have any further part in Stapleton's plot, but her abusive husband beat her and tied her to a pole to prevent her from warning him.
In Holmes' words: "..he [Stapleton] has for years been a desperate and dangerous man.." It was his consuming interest in entomology that allowed Holmes to identify him as the same man as the former schoolmaster Vandeleur, after whom was named a certain moth that he had been the first to describe in his Yorkshire days.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote this story shortly after returning to his home Undershaw from South Africa, where he had worked as a volunteer physician at the Langman Field Hospital in Bloemfontein at the time of the Second Boer War.
Conan Doyle had not written about Sherlock Holmes in eight years, having killed off the character in the 1893 story "The Final Problem". Although The Hound of the Baskervilles is set before the latter events, two years later Conan Doyle would bring Holmes back for good, explaining in "The Adventure of the Empty House" that Holmes had faked his own death.
He was assisted with the plot by a 30-year-old Daily Express journalist named Bertram Fletcher Robinson (1870–1907). His ideas came from the legend of Richard Cabell, which was the fundamental inspiration for the Baskerville tale of a hellish hound and a cursed country squire. Cabell's tomb can be seen in the Devon town of Buckfastleigh.
Squire Richard Cabell lived for hunting and was what in those days was described as a 'monstrously evil man'. He gained this reputation for, amongst other things, immorality and having sold his soul to the Devil. There was also a rumour that he had murdered his wife. On 5 July 1677, he died and was laid to rest in 'the sepulchre,' but that was only the beginning of the story. The night of his interment saw a phantom pack of hounds come baying across the moor to howl at his tomb. From that night onwards, he could be found leading the phantom pack across the moor, usually on the anniversary of his death. If the pack were not out hunting, they could be found ranging around his grave howling and shrieking. In an attempt to lay the soul to rest, the villagers built a large building around the tomb, and to be doubly sure a huge slab was placed .
Moreover, Devon's folklore includes tales of a fearsome supernatural dog known as the Yeth hound that Conan Doyle may have heard.
In 1902, Doyle's original manuscript of the book was broken up into individual leaves as part of a promotional campaign by Doyle's American publisher - they were used as part of window displays by individual booksellers. Out of an estimated 185 leaves, only 36 are known to still exist, including all the leaves from Chapter 11, held by the New York Public Library. Other leaves are owned by university libraries and private collectors. A newly rediscovered example was sold at auction in 2012 for US$158,500.
Sherlock Holmes –Sherlock Holmes is the famed 221B Baker Street detective with a keen eye, acute intelligence and a logical mind. He is observant and deduction personified, and although he takes a back seat to Watson for much of this particular adventure, we always feel his presence. In the end, it takes all of his crime-solving powers to identify an ingenious killer and save the life of his next intended victim, and solve the Baskerville mystery.
Dr John Watson – The novel's narrator, Watson is Holmes' stalwart assistant at Baker Street and the chronicler of his triumphs as a private investigator. He steps into Holmes' boots for a while, expressing his eagerness to impress his colleague by cracking this most baffling of cases before Holmes returns to the fray.
Sir Hugo Baskerville – The 17th-century Baskerville who spawned the legend of the family curse. Sir Hugo was a picture of aristocratic excess, drunkenness and debauchery until, one night, he was reportedly killed near Baskerville Hall, in the wilds of Dartmoor, by a demonic hound sent to punish his wickedness. His portrait gives Holmes the clue that Jack Stapleton is actually a Baskerville.
Sir Charles Baskerville – The recently deceased owner of the Baskerville estates in Devon, Sir Charles was a superstitious bachelor in waning health. Long terrified by the Baskerville legend, his footprints show that he must have been fleeing from something at the time of his death in the grounds of Baskerville Hall. Furthermore, the paw-prints of a large dog marked the soil near his corpse. Sir Charles had been a philanthropist. His enlightened plans to invest funds in the isolated district surrounding Baskerville Hall prompt his heir, Sir Henry, to want to move there and continue his uncle's good works.
Sir Henry Baskerville – The late Sir Charles's nephew and closest known relative, Henry Baskerville inherits the baronetcy. He is described as "a small, alert, dark-eyed man about thirty years of age, very sturdily built." Sir Henry is introduced by his doctor to Holmes and Watson, who travel to Devon in order to protect him from what may be a plot to kill him and thus eliminate the last of the Baskervilles. At the climax of the story, Sir Henry is almost killed, like his uncle, by a ferocious hound, kept hidden among the mires of Dartmoor and trained by the villain of the story to prey on selected victims.
Dr James Mortimer – A medical practitioner and friend of the Baskervilles. Mortimer is tall, thin, and good-natured with rather eccentric habits. He is, nonetheless, a competent country doctor who was made the executor of Sir Charles's will. He sets the book's plot in train by travelling to London to inform Holmes and Watson about the strange events surrounding Sir Charles's demise, and alerting them to the dangerous situation that Sir Henry now faces as Sir Charles's heir. Mortimer continues to assist Holmes and Watson in their twin roles as investigators and bodyguards until the conclusion of the case.
Jack Stapleton – A bookish former schoolmaster, Stapleton chases butterflies on the moors and pursues antiquarian interests. Outwardly a polished gentleman, he inwardly possesses a hot temper which reveals itself at key moments. It transpires that Stapleton—in reality a younger cousin of Sir Henry's who stands to inherit the Baskerville fortune—is a scheming, manipulative and money-hungry criminal.
Miss Beryl Stapleton – Allegedly Stapleton's sister, this dusky beauty turns out to be his wife. Eager to prevent another death but terrified of her violent spouse, she provides enigmatic warnings to Sir Henry and Watson.
John and Eliza Barrymore – The longtime domestic servants of the Baskervilles. Earnest and eager to please, Mrs Barrymore and her husband harbour a dark family secret, however, which temporarily misleads Watson about what is happening out on the moors.
Laura Lyons – The attractive daughter of a local crank who disowned her when she married against his wishes. Subsequently abandoned by her husband, she turns to Stapleton and Sir Charles Baskerville for help, with fatal consequences for the latter. Laura Lyons when confronted by Sherlock Holmes and is furnished with the truth about Stapleton, who had been using her, comes up with the truth that she had been keeping a secret, which however helps a lot in joining the missing links of the mystery.
Selden – A dangerous criminal hiding from the police on the moors. He has a link to the Barrymores, who clandestinely supply him with food and clothing at night. Selden is unexpectedly killed by the hound while dressed in a discarded suit of Sir Henry's clothes.
The Hound of the Baskervilles has been adapted for radio, film, and television.
In the BBC Radio 4 series, Lestrade is never mentioned in the story. Holmes and Watson ambush the Hound themselves. Also, Holmes attempts to hunt down Stapleton after the Hound is killed, finding him in the Grimpin Mire. Despite Watson's urgings to do otherwise, Holmes actually watches Stapleton lose his footing and drown in the quicksand. In an epilogue, Holmes reveals his findings about Stapleton's former school, which Stapleton claimed had been shut down after a deadly epidemic. Holmes hints that the circumstances were far more sinister than a plague. Judging by Watson's horror at Holmes's revelations, it seems likely that they concern child molestation or some such offence not openly disclosed during the Victorian era. Holmes also mentions that the hint that led him to Stapleton's true identity was connected with his former school rather than his discovery of a new butterfly species.
Film and television adaptations
There have been over 20 film and television versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
- In 1960 the Disney cartoonist Carl Barks made a parody of this story, The Hound of the Whiskervilles, starring Uncle Scrooge. A 1965 issue of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories (comic book) featured The Hound of Basketville, starring Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Gladstone Gander, and Pluto, as Sherlock Mouse, Doctor Goofy, Sir Gladstone Basketville, and the hound.
- Pierre Bayard's 2008 book Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong re-opens the case and, by careful re-examination of all the clues, clears the hound of all wrongdoing and argues that the actual murderer got away with the crime completely unsuspected by Holmes, countless readers of the book over the past century—and even, in a sense, the author himself.
- The Moor, a 1998 novel in Laurie R. King's series about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, uses the setting and various plot elements, with Holmes returning to Dartmoor on a later case.
- In 1997, Spike Milligan satirised the novel in his book, The Hound of the Baskervilles According to Spike Milligan, combining elements of the original novel with the Basil Rathbone serials.
- "Facsimile of the 1st edition (1902)". S4ulanguages.com. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003, Retrieved 31 October 2012
- "The Best Sherlock Holmes Stories". Bestofsherlock.com. Retrieved 2014-06-23.
- Spiring, Paul (2007). "Hugo Baskerville & Squire Richard Cabell III". BFROnline. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
- "Cabell Tomb — Buckfastleigh". Devon Guide. 2007. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
- "Legendary Dartmoor". 22 November 2007. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
- Stock, Randall (June 10, 2013). "The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Manuscript Census". bestofsherlock.com. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- "DOYLE, Sir Arthur Conan (1859-1930). Autograph manuscript leaf from The Hound of the Baskervilles, first serialized in The Strand Magazine, August 1901-April 1902, published in book form by George Newnes, on 25 March 1902.". Christies. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
- Uncle Scrooge #29, Dell, 1960.
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- Read The Hound of the Baskervilles at Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–His Life, All His Works and More
- The Hound of the Baskervilles at Project Gutenberg
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Part I) at BFRonline.biz.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Part II) at BFRonline.biz.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles (Conclusion) at BFRonline.biz.
- The Hound of the Baskervilles as an audiobook on LibriVox